The first time I visited New York City in 2008, I felt born again, seeing urbanity anew. Prior to the visit, I had scoffed at the hoopla, wondering how one city could possibly live up to such hyperbolic ravings. Arriving to the city, though, my senses were overwhelmed – the architecture, the 24/7 traffic, the wide mix of people and personalities and the iconic institutions looming above astounded me. Though I was largely creatively blocked in that period of my life, NYC was my window to the other side and I spent the rest of the visit snapping photographs from every angle.
Arriving back in Ottawa was another story. Nothing about the city inspired me. The window to free-flowing creativity fogged over and I was back where I’d started. Try as I might, I could not capture the excitement I felt in New York – at least not enough to motivate more ad hoc photo shoots. I wondered how I could transition to a full-time artist and photographer when the only time I could create was through brief spats of inspiration, such as the one I experienced in NYC. Perhaps this is a situation every amateur artist experiences. However, I also began to speculate that the city one lives in has a great influence on one’s artistic output. This is what first kick-started my interest in urbanity and the creative city movement.
When I visited NYC for a second brief time in April, the love affair was re-kindled and I tried to observe why the city fascinated me, whereas even my hometown Toronto doesn’t hold nearly the same exotic appeal. Strip away all the iconic imagery (yellow taxicabs, the Empire State, the Chelsea, Times Square, etc.) and NYC is still beautiful. It manages the right mix of urban chaos, diverse crowds, plus gothic and modern architecture. For an outsider, NYC truly does embody the sense that anything is possible, because it is home to such a wide range of industries (fashion, finance, music, culture).
At the risk of this becoming a nauseating love letter to an American city, I know that the looks are deceiving. There is an ugly side too (there must be!). How much would I love or enjoy the city if I had to live in its reality – the shocking cost of rent, the day-to-day hustle? How “creative” would I feel, after devoting most of my paycheck to living expenses? How “inspired” would I feel, knowing I am one of thousands photographers or artists in the city, all chasing the same dream?
There is no simple, happy ending here. I am still not completely satisfied with Ottawa. It will never match up to the inspiration I feel visiting NYC, and neither will Toronto (not yet at least). Where Ottawa did finally succeed is that it forced me to find my niche. Part of the reason I was uninspired for so long, is just that – I was waiting for the inspiration to greet me.
Living in Ottawa is much like a functional marriage. It takes care of my basic needs – job security, steady income, safety and shelter. In return, I work hard to love it the best way I can – by using the arts as a mirror, to show it has all the class and potential to become more than the boy-next-door.